The site of Hampi, in India’s southwestern state of Karnataka, was the capital of the last great Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar. The empire prospered between the 14th and 16th centuries and received UNESCO World Heritage status in 1986.
To this day, it remains a very popular destination – over half a million people visit Hampi every year. Some of the temples are still active places of worship.
“When I come to this place, I am very happy. I do this for my family to pray for good health and a good future. I’ve been coming here to worship since I was in my 50s. It’s such a peaceful place,” says pilgrim Maharaj Durgappa.
Manjunat Gowda is a local guide. His family has lived here for three generations. He was born and raised at the heart of the ancient empire. The temples were his playground.
“My grandparents came here 80 years ago. They settled down here. It was not a tourist destination, just a pleasant place to live. Many people would come here to worship. When pilgrims came to the temples, my grand father would offer them tea, coffee, or food, make them feel at home. He would treat them like guests of God,” he tells us.
Manjunat’s family moved a few kilometres away from the site in 2011 when the pavilion area where their house was built was cleared for restoration. He has worked as a tour guide here for 15 years.
“There are more than a thousand temples, but each one is different, because we have three different kinds of architecture. The first one is general architecture, the second is Hindu and Islamic architecture, and the third is fortifications and watchtowers like in military architecture. Hampi is a fantastic site – very beautiful,” says Manjunat.
But the growing number of pilgrims and tourists brings new challenges. Deputy Superintending Archaeologist N.C Prakash’s main task is to restore the ruined sites but also to ensure the safety of monuments. The biggest problem today is garbage.
“We have to raise awareness among visitors because when people come here, they bring a lot of plastic, food and other things. We have installed dustbins, but knowingly or unknowingly – I don’t know – they don’t use the dustbins. So cleanliness really is something we have to raise awareness about,” he explains.
A group of locals is taking the issue seriously and has decided to get its hands dirty. Kiran Kumar runs a family guesthouse near the Virupaksha Temple. He and his friends join in to help keep the place clean.
“We have a responsibility to keep Hampi clean,” he tells us. “So with my friends here, we clean the place. We’ve been doing this work for many years. We have an organisation called the Citizens’ Rights Protection Forum, which we started in 2003. So we clean places like the riverbed, or the waterfalls area or the area around some other monument.”
It is not hard to imagine just how magnificent Hampi was in its glory days. It is a mythical site that bears witness to a rich history, whose beauty and integrity must be preserved for future generations.